Carolina Klüft in Gothenburg after the final meet of her career (Anders Sjogren / DECA Text&Bild) © Copyright
The format with three athletes per team in each event is also unique as it really calls upon "the strength of depth". One star is not the key to success in an event and more often than not the decisive factor is how the "anonymous" athletes fare. A typical example of what can happen in this very special setting was this time given by Swedish High Jumper Jakob Thorvaldsson.
With a PB of 2.13m and up against the likes of Osku Torro (PB 2.33i, SB 2.28) and Jussi Viita (PB 2.24i, SB 2.17) Thorvaldsson could at best hope for a third place. But suddenly everything clicked for him: He tied his 2.13 PB with ease, missed once at 2.15, went straight to 2.17 making this 4 cm PB handsomely and then added also 2.19 on first attempt. Suddenly his "third at best" prognosis was changed into a win!
One more reason to the continuing vitality of the concept into this day and age of gala circuits and multitudes of international championships is that the nations are fairly evenly matched in the long time perspective. In recent years Sweden has dominated the women’s match while Finland has had a small but distinctive advantage among the men.
But nothing is for ever and this year at the 1995 World Championships venue Ullevi in Göteborg the recent patterns were turned completely upside down: Among the women a Swedish win by 43 points (225 - 182) in 2011 was turned into a Finnish triumph by 36 points (223 - 187). And among the men the Finnish advantage of 12 points last year (206 – 194) was now followed by a resounding Swedish victory by 33 points (220 – 187)!
The key to the outcome this time was to be found in the running events: For men Sweden point-wise won all individual races but one (400m Hurdles) plus both relays and for women Finland won all but two (400m and 800m) individually plus one relay.
MVP athletes in the winning teams were Nil de Oliveira (won 100m and 200m and ran on both winning relay teams) and Hanna-Maari Latvala (won 100m, 200m and 4x100m) who both have been around for some years but who really have raised their games considerably this year at ages 25 and 24 respectively.
Despite the fact that the running events determined the outcome of the matches it is in the field events that the current strength could be found for both nations (although Sweden this time was missing both female High Jump stars Emma Green Tregaro and Ebba Jungmark due to injuries). The top event quality-wise was the men’s Javelin Throw where Finland had Olympic finalists Antti Ruuskanen, Tero Pitkämäki and Ari Mannio and Sweden had consistent 80m-thrower Kim Amb (7th in European Championships).
The latter actually took an early lead with his opener of 79.18 but then Ruuskanen and Pitkämäki – clearly the top throwers in the world during the post-Olympic season – really got going: Ruuskanen in the form of his life had four throws at 84.08-85.67 - but still lost to Pitkämäki who had three beyond 83 topped by 86.86! Amb fought bravely to avoid a Finnish triple improving to 80.97 but was still passed in the very last round by European bronze medalist Mannio (81.28).
Another top quality event was the men’s Long Jump with four jumpers having surpassed 8 metres previously this summer. In the tricky swirling Ullevi winds (varied between -1.4 and +3.9 during the Long Jump competition) Olympic 4th placer and European bronze medalist Michel Tornéus had some huge jumps that got red flagged and found himself in 3rd behind Tommi Evilä’s 7.91w and Roni Ollikainens 7.90 with just one jump remaining. Tornéus rose to that challenge, hit the middle of the board and flew past the 8m-marker to 8.14w!
Sweden’s World Junior champions from Barcelona in July Angelica Bengtsson and Sofi Flinck both laid the foundation to would-be impressive winning streaks in this match. 19-year-old Bengtsson cleared 4.46m in the Pole Vault before attempting 4.64m, one centimetre above her own World Junior Record while the opening throw of 56.87m of 17-year-old Flinck held up for victory in the Javelin.
However, they both have a long way to go before they can rival the winning streak of Hammer Thrower Olli-Pekka Karjalainen. He now raised it to 13 – and counting!
Klüft’s final bow with 4x400m Relay victory
But there was also one athlete on Ullevi that definitely bowed out of this match after first competing in it ten years ago. The very last event of the program was the women’s 4x400m Relay and running the third leg on the winning Swedish team was Carolina Klüft. Her merits as an international heptathlete are well known but she also was an athlete that always was there for the Swedish team contributing to the utmost of her ability in this match:
In nine matches (missed ’06 and ’09 to injuries) she competed in various combinations of six individual events (100m, 200m, 100m Hurdles, High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump) and two relays for an incredible total of 34 starts (i.e. averaging almost four events per match!) resulting in 19 event wins (8 in Long Jump, 2 in 100m, 2 in Triple Jump, 1 in High Jump, 5 in 4x100m and 1 in 4x400m)! There will never be another Carolina Klüft!
But the match between Sweden and Finland will of course go on! Edition No 73 is scheduled for Stockholm in one year’s time with the Swedish women and the Finnish men already set on "avenging" the losses suffered in 2012.
A. Lennart Julin for the IAAF